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Twelve round of 32, Sweet 16 match-ups we crave

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The NCAA tournament is the greatest event in the modern sports calendar. Other postseasons, from the professional ranks to the BCS, are facile when compared to the NCAAs, a tournament with a level of complexity unseen in any other championship setting. Not only do teams have to prep for their first-round opponent, they also have to additionally gameplan for the two teams they may face should they win, contests that happen as short as 48 hours in the future.

Save the 16-1 games, it is hard to predict the other 63 outcomes. While we love those first round games, and have highlighted which ones have attained ‘must see’ status, here are twelve round of 32 and Sweet 16 match-ups we hope materialize in the coming weeks.

MORE: The Dummy’s Guide to filling out a bracket


The winner of No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. the winner of No. 4 UCLA/No. 13 Tulsa — South — March 23

This is a great pod, including one squad contending for this year’s ‘Florida Gulf Coast’ distinction (Stephen F. Austin), three teams that like to run (Tulsa, UCLA, and VCU all use 68-plus possessions), and an offense (the Bruins) which thoroughly embarrassed the nation’s stingiest defense. All four programs also sport defensive turnover rates that rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top fifty, and whichever two teams advance to the second round game will engage in an up-tempo, steal-laden affair, so we humbly beseech the assigned officiating crew to swallow their whistles and let those two teams play.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 10 Saint Joseph’s — East — March 22

When Villanova traveled roughly seven miles to play Saint Joseph’s in early December, the game’s final score, a 30-point thumping by the Wildcats, gave little indication both teams might meet again in the postseason. However, St. Joe’s is brimming with offensive confidence following their Atlantic 10 tournament title. Langston Galloway (57.5 percent from three during the conference tournament) and Halil Kanacevic (back-to-back double doubles against St. Bonaventure and VCU) are carrying a team that is finally living up to the potential expected of the Hawks a year ago, and freshman DeAndre Bembry could be one of the tournament’s breakout stars. This game could be a classic Big Fiv … er … tourney tilt.

PREVIEWS: East Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 New Mexico — South — March 23

Sure, everyone is waiting for New Mexico to again break hearts and exit the tournament early for the second straight season, but UNM has a massive chip on its collective shoulder this year. New Mexico was comically underseeded — apparently beating San Diego State twice (including in the Mountain West title game) and Cincinnati during non-conference play was insignificant to the selection committee — and has one league player of the year (Kendal Williams, 16.4 ppg) and one player of the year snub (Cameron Bairstow, 20.3 ppg). Similarly to last year’s team, UNM continues to relish paint touches, but the current Lobo iteration actually makes those interior looks (51.8 percent, as opposed to 46.1 in 2013). It is unclear whether Kansas big Joel Embiid (8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) has recovered from his back injury and will play, a development that could drastically hamper KU’s efforts. While Kansas’ efficiency ratings haven’t budged much without the freshman center, opponents are grabbing 69 percent of KU’s misses (up from 62 percent with Embiid in Big 12 play) and the Jayhawks still struggle to defend without fouling.

No. 1 Arizona vs. the winner of No. 8 Gonzaga/No. 9 Oklahoma State — West — March 23

It is too difficult to pick which match-up we’d like to see more, so we’ll describe both! Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (17.8 ppg) is in the midst of playing himself back into the hearts of NBA GMs, and a strong showing against the Wildcats could springboard Smart into consideration for a lottery pick. Gonzaga, and particularly its bigs, presents defensive problems for Arizona. Sam Dower (15 ppg, 7.1 rpg) thrives on pick and pop jumpers, and consistently knocks down twos from 10 to 15 feet out, an ability which should create halfcourt spacing for Zaga’s talented guards. The head-to-head potential for TJ McConnnell (Arizona) and Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) would also be a highlight of a Zona-Zags match-up.

No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor — West — March 23

Baylor recovered from a midseason swoon — the Bears lost two of eight over the course of a month — to reach the Big 12 tournament final, and as neither team plays much defense, this game would be decided by whichever squad scores more points. Baylor’s defense enabled conference opponents to score 1.08 points per possessions, likely the worst defensive efficiency rate of any power six conference at-large team, and though Creighton’s Doug McDermott (26.9 ppg) still needs 500 or so points to catch career scoring leader Pete Maravich, he might come close to the record while playing the Bears. Teams dependent on three-point production typically do very well against Baylor — Scott Drew’s squad allows league opponents to convert nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc — and the Bluejays might also set some shooting records in San Antonio. Kenny Cherry is key for Baylor — the guard, and his 35 percent assist rate (ranked eighteenth nationally), is extremely underrated.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Ohio State — South — March 22

Both Ohio State and Syracuse are in dire need of redemption. At certain points of the season, the two programs were considered shoo-ins for the Final Four, and now both have many question marks. Since the Cuse started the year with a 25-0 record, they have lost four of six (which doesn’t include their opening ACC tournament loss), but the presence of freshman Tyler Ennis (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) and C.J. Fair (16.7 ppg) cannot be discounted. The Buckeyes nearly made the Big Ten tournament final, and appear to have righted themselves, but how far can a stellar defense carry a suspect offense? Even if this game is decided well before the final buzzer, the match-up of Aaron Craft against Ennis will be satisfying.

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina — East — March 23

Fans of fast-breaks — which, aren’t we all? — will love this pairing. The Cyclones and Tar Heels are listed thirteenth and eighteenth, respectively, in Pomeroy’s tempo rankings, and we again hope the officiating crew lets this contest play out. As expected for two teams that each use more than 70 possessions per game, both are led by stellar backcourts, including UNC’s Marcus Paige, a 6-foot-1 guard who takes an equal amount of twos (49 percent of his 200 attempts) and threes (39.1 percent of his 202 attempts), and DeAndre Kane, a Cyclones guard who plays basketball like a running back, ping-ponging off defenders until finishing at the rim.

No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — March 22

Of all the NBA prospects in this year’s tournament field, North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun is the most interesting. The 6-foot-7 forward is the prototypical stretch-4, primarily operating within the arc (51 percent from two) but possessing the capability to convert from the perimeter (42.2 percent from deep). Since San Diego State is one of the tourney’s stingiest teams, how Braun fares against a defense which easily handcuffs an opposing player’s scoring will be closely monitored.


No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 4 Louisville — Midwest

It is universally agreed that Wichita State received the toughest draw of any number one seed in recent memory, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Shockers will even reach the second weekend, but if Gregg Marshall’s squad does face Louisville, the rematch of last year’s Final Four will be entertaining. This is a much stronger Shocker squad — Fred VanVleet (5.3 apg) is a pass-first point guard propelling a more offensively efficient team (1.15 PPP, as compared to 1.07 in 2013) — and one used to the Cardinals’ trademark defensive intensity. Louisville shouldn’t have been a top seed, but like New Mexico, UL was unfairly underseeded. The improved play from Montrezl Harrell (61.4 percent from two), Luke Hancock (32 percent from three since February 1st), and the continued stellar offensive performance from Russ Smith (52 percent from two, 41 percent from three, and an assist rate of 32 percent) could prove a challenging match-up for WSU’s grinding and physical defense.

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA — South

Much like the Pac-12 final, this contest would pair a top-rated defense against an otherworldly offense. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has proven to be arguably the nation’s most challenging cover, but Florida coach Billy Donovan has numerous options at his disposal to blank Anderson, including the uber-athletic Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II.

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan — Midwest
A rematch from earlier this season, Duke was able to easily dispatch the Wolverines and their ridiculously efficient offense. However, UM has made some subtle tweaks to further offensive production — for starters, Nik Stauskas (17.5 ppg) has left the corner and now plays more on the ball; Caris LeVert, the team’s best iso option, now attempts the third highest percentage of shots — and despite their performance in the Big Ten tournament final, reprising this non-conference tilt could result in a Sweet 16 classic.

No 1. Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State — West

Highly ranked defenses combined with world class athletes who thrive both in transition and in the halfcourt. This game fills all the requirements for a GOAT Sweet 16 match-up. The defining match-up could be SDSU’s Josh Davis against the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Davis went from severely underrated at Tulane to now the Aztecs’ interior anchor, so while his efficiency has slipped (which isn’t a knock on Davis — he just gets fewer touches than he did at Tulane), his ability to battle with Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will help deflect defensive pressure and haul in crucial additional possessions.

CBT Podcast: Previewing the Pac-12 conference

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, we published the Pac-12 preview.

Today, we’re giving you the Pac-12 preview podcast.

In 45 minutes, we give you an detailed breakout of each member of the conference and, since we love being wrong about things, a bold prediction for each team.

So join us, listen, and remember to let us know just how wrong we were.

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College Basketball’s Best Wing Forwards

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 24:  Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks dunks the ball in the first half while taking on the Duke Blue Devils in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at the Honda Center on March 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The lead guard position is the deepest in college basketball this season, but wings aren’t all that far behind. 

And I have a theory on that.

One of the most valuable positions in the NBA these days are wings that can defend everyone from a point guard to a power forward and are capable of knocking down an open three. Throw in the ability to attack a close out off the dribble and the willingness to play within a system, and you understand why a guy like Trevor Ariza’s NBA career is spanning into a second decade. The trickle-down effect here is that guys like Jaron Blossomgame or Josh Jackson or O.G. Anunoby focus on developing the perimeter skills necessary to be able to space the floor, making them more valuable at the professional level in the long-term.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it and this just happens to be a year where there are a lot of talented players at this position. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of guys on this list that will spend a lot of time in the NBA.

Before we dive into the top 20 wings in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

Villanova guard Josh Hart (3) shoots in front of Georgetown forward Isaac Copeland (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Villanova guard Josh Hart (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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1. Josh Jackson, Kansas: I don’t think it’s crazy to compare Josh Jackson to Andrew Wiggins. They’re both supremely-athletic, 6-foot-8 wings that will play a critical role on a Kansas team that has the talent to win a national title. The difference between them? The comparison isn’t perfect – Jackson is more polished as a scorer and a passer while Wiggins was a more athletic, raw talent – but here’s the major point that needs to be made: Wiggins wasn’t ready to play a alpha-dog role that he was forced into. Jackson is, but he won’t be asked to, not with the veterans on the KU roster.

Wiggins has a negative rep from his time at Kansas, but he averaged 17.7 points and was the best perimeter defender in the country on a team that very easily could have made the Final Four had Joel Embiid stayed healthy. He was damn good, and Josh Jackson has a chance to be better.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart’s ability to guard different positions and attack the glass on both ends of the floor made him the most valuable piece that Villanova had on their roster last season. It’s impossible to over-value how good he fits on that team. His NBA potential is a question mark, however, the same way that Buddy Hield’s was heading into last season. Can Hart make the same kind of jump that Hield did?

3. Jayson Tatum, Duke: Now that we know his foot injury is not something serious we can move on discussing Tatum as the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. There are been rave reviews about Tatum coming out of the Duke camp during the preseason. He is, essentially, a 6-foot-9 kid with a shooting guard’s skill-set. Think Brandon Ingram, only more fluid and more skilled with less hair and less tattoos.

4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks was a tough guy for us to rank on this list. When healthy, he’s an awesome college player that is a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense. He’s a guy that could average upwards of 20 points on a top five team. He’s a first-team all-american. But … he’s got this foot issue that will likely keep him out for the start of the season, and if you know anything about foot issues, they don’t necessarily just go away. His health may be the single biggest x-factor in college hoops this side of Harry Giles III.

5. Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame is the most under-appreciated player in college basketball. He can guard anyone outside of the nation’s best low-post scorers. He averaged 18.7 points for a slow-paced Clemson team. He shot 44.6 percent from three on more than 100 threes attempted. But he plays for Clemson, so no one notices him. Trust me. You should take notice.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Jaron Blossomgame #5 of the Clemson Tigers dunks against D.J. Foreman #1 and Jake Dadika of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the Men Who Speak Up Main Event basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clemson won 76-58.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Jaron Blossomgame (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

6. O.G. Anunoby, Indiana: Anunoby is a tough player to rank on a list like this for a couple reasons. He’s a potential breakout star that didn’t post great numbers last season. His value lies in his ability to play a role more than his ability to score 20 in the Big Ten. He may be a better NBA prospect than a college player. But he’s also a 6-foot-8 defensive menace that can guard four positions, hit threes, get to the offensive glass and beat people off the dribble.

7. Malcolm Hill, Illinois: If Blossomgame is the most under-appreciated player in the country, Hill isn’t all that far behind. He’s what we like to call a bucket-getter. He can score in the post. He can score on the perimeter. He hits threes. He beats people off the dribble. He’s got a jab series. He can hit step-backs. He is a great college scorer.

8. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: There may not be a better athlete is college basketball than Miles Bridges. He’s a freak to the point that I may demand to see a birth certificate if I’m to believe that he isn’t from outer space. The concern with Bridges is going to be his ability to score. Michigan State desperately needs a go-to guy, so Bridges will have the chance to show what he can do offensively. It also means he’ll risk being exposed.

9. Trevon Blueitt, Xavier: Edmond Sumner is the guy that has been getting all the hype this season, which is why it may surprise you to find out that Bluiett was actually Xavier’s leading scorer last season. He’s not as athletic as some of the other wings on this list, but he is a terrific shooter that can defend bigger players.

10. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson is a tantalizing prospect because of his height, his length and his touch in the lane. The issue is that he hasn’t consistently shown the ability to take over games at the college level. With Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson gone, it’s Jackson’s time.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

11. Kris Jenkins, Villanova: You’re going to remember Jenkins as the guy that made the national title-winning shot last April. You should also remember him as a sniper from three whose ability to defend bigger players was why Villanova was able to create so much space and so many mismatches offensively.

12. Deng Adel, Louisville: By the end of the year, this may be too low for Adel. He struggled with injuries last season, but people in and around the program rave about how good he’s been behind closed doors. Will that show through on the Yum! Center floor this season?

13. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State:

14. V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: Beachem is a guy that deserves to get more attention than he’s gotten in his career. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 sniper that will be playing the Pat Connaughton/Tim Abromaitis role in Notre Dame’s offense. Don’t be surprised when he’s averaging 18 points and shooting 43 percent from three at the end of the year.

15. Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin was Butler’s most dangerous scorer last year, and with the amount of talent that the Bulldogs lost to graduation, don’t be surprised to see him lead the Big East in scoring this season.

RANKINGS: Top Frontcourts | Top Backcourts

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 20: Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 20, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Nigel Hayes (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

16. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: This will seem low for a player with Hayes’ profile and a preseason Big Ten Player of the Year nomination this fall. It will also seem low if he shoots better than 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three, like he did last season.

17. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has averaged 13 points, 4.5 boards, 3.0 assists and more than a steal per game in his three years at South Carolina. At some point he is going to get the respect he deserves as one of the best players in the SEC.

18. Kevin Hervey, UT-Arlington: One of the most talented mid-major players in the country, Hervey was drawing attention from NBA scouts when he tore his ACL last winter.

19. Andrew White, Syracuse: White is one of the best volume shooters in the country, and he’ll join Syracuse to play the role vacated by Malachi Richardson. The question is whether White will be able to accept being the third or fourth option offensively.

20. Isaac Hamilton, UCLA: No one talks about Hamilton when talking about UCLA, but he averaged 16.8 points for the Bruins as a junior.


  • Rawle Alkins, Arizona
  • Jamel Artis, Pitt
  • Isaac Copeland, Georgetown
  • Mustapha Heron, Auburn
  • Kyle Kuzma, Utah
  • Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa
  • Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas
  • Omar Prewitt, William & Mary
  • Devin Robinson, Florida
  • Duncan Robinson, Michigan
  • Maverick Rowan, N.C. State
  • Ray Smith, Arizona

Beyond McBuckets: Creighton, Greg McDermott continue to work out of Doug’s shadow

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Greg McDermott of the Creighton Bluejays talks with Maurice Watson Jr. #10 during the team's game against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Creighton won 97-76.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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OMAHA — Creighton basketball is still here.

It’s understandable if you haven’t thought about them for the last two years, but the Bluejays are ready to make you remember them again. They never actually left, but they’re intent on being back.

When a place is home to one of the greatest careers in a generation, it’s hard not to see it as empty once that career is gone.

It’s going to be difficult, maybe even impossible, to separate Creighton basketball from Doug McDermott any time soon. And Creighton doesn’t really want to be separated from him, of course. He captured the attention of a nation and electrified the sport during his time in this city better known for college baseball than hoops.

Creighton, though, wants to be more than just Doug McDermott. The Bluejays have spent the first two years of the post-McBuckets era in a sort of purgatory. Forgotten by most, but building back toward relevance.

Now, as the Bluejays open the season as a top-25 team with one of the country’s best backcourts, they’re ready to reemerge.

“Putting Creighton back on the map,” senior point guard Maurice Watson told “I think it’s going to lead us in the future. I think this is going to turn into a basketball factory with the top talent we get here in the gym and the resources we have.

“To kind of start that off, start the rebuild back up, I think it’s going to be a lot for our legacies leaving college.”

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

The legacy McDermott left at Creighton is undeniable. He scored 3,150 points. He shot 55 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from 3-point range. A three-time All-American, McDermott was the consensus National Player of the Year in 2014. He led the Bluejays to wins in three-consecutive NCAA tournaments, a program first.

That type of player leaving town after graduation would be tough enough for any program, let alone one just a year into its transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the revamped Big East. It added another layer of complication, though, given McDermott’s dad, Greg, is Creighton’s coach.

“Obviously it was a thrill to be able to coach him,” coach McDermott told “As much fun and enjoyable as it was then, the further you get removed from it, the more special it becomes, I think for both Doug and I.

“I’m watching his (NBA) career from afar and trying to keep pace with what he’s doing with his career, but my focus is on this program and trying to get us back to the NCAA tournament.”

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14: Head coach Greg McDermott talks to his son Doug McDermott #3 of the Creighton Bluejays in the second half against the Xavier Musketeers during the Semifinals of the 2014 Men's Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Creighton coach Greg McDermott talks to his son, Doug (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

Usually, it’s the son that needs to escape a father’s shadow, but it’s fair to wonder if that’s the reverse for the McDermotts. Greg’s first try at a high-major program featured four sub-.500 seasons in which his Iowa State teams never finished higher than eighth in the Big 12. His first season without Doug at Creighton, the Bluejays went 14-19.

“You’re going to have adversity wherever you’re at, whatever job you have,” Doug McDermott said to “We had it going there for awhile. You kind of expect a little bit of a fallback. I think he realized that.”

Doug wasn’t the only loss from that team as three other senior starters departed. That left an inexperienced group, some of whom were recruited with the idea they’d be challenging the likes of Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State for conference titles, not Villanova, Xavier and Georgetown.

“We moved to the Big East Doug’s senior year and that senior class we could have gone to any league in the country and been fine,” Greg said, “because of the experience we had on that team. That was a positive.

“The negative was all those guys who played behind those four seniors didn’t play a lot, and all of sudden they’re thrown into a role as seniors in the Big East the next year and they hadn’t really played a prominent starting role in our program. That was asking a lot.”

Creighton finished last that year in the Big East as the Bluejays transitioned to a Doug-less reality.

“We obviously knew when Doug left we needed to work harder,” senior Isaiah Zierden, who was a freshman during McDermott’s senior year, said “and figure out a way to fill that pretty big void.”

That 2014-15 season was a struggle, but appears to be a one-year blip. Instead going into a tailspin, Creighton steered out of the skid last year, missing the NCAA tournament but going 20-15 with four starters set to return and one enigmatic but talented incoming transfer ready to become eligible.

Marcus Foster wasn’t a particularly heralded recruit when he signed with Kansas State. He was judged as the country’s 40th-best shooting guard prospect by Rivals in 2013. He was a three-star recruit coming to a Big 12 that was welcoming the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

After averaging 15.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shooting 39.5 percent from distance as a freshman, however, he found himself as a bonafide NBA prospect and a first-team preseason all-conference pick in 2014-15.

And things couldn’t have really have gone much worse from there.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

Marcus Foster (Creighton Athletics)
Marcus Foster (Creighton Athletics)

Foster was benched and later suspended by coach Bruce Weber, saw his numbers tumble and was ultimately dismissed from the program.

“I just had my mind on other things,” Foster told “I was worried about trying to get to the NBA, trying to impress scouts, not coming to practice and working hard every day.”

Creighton is offering him a chance to reclaim not only his professional prospects but his public perception.

“That’s what we talked about when we recruited him,” McDermott said “We have to rebuild his reputation because he’s made some mistakes in the past and people are going to watch him with a real close eye.”

The 19-year-old who got the boot from Manhattan isn’t the 21-year-old who now resides three hours to the north, those around Foster at Creighton say. He’s someone with something to prove, beyond just that the season he put up as a freshman was no mirage.

“You have people around the world thinking something about you that’s not really true,” Watson said, “and thinking you are the person you aren’t. You’re a good person and people think you’re bad and that you’re a knucklehead when that really isn’t the case.

“When you’re on a stage like this, it’s all under a magnifying glass. That’s something he had to understand and I think he’s learned that now with a second chance.”

Foster spent a “humbling” year away from the game. Redshirting under NCAA transfer rules, he toiled in obscurity while his reputation remained in many minds tarnished.

“I’m glad it happened,” Foster said.” I feel like everybody in life has to face adversity, and I feel like that was my adversity I have to face. I learned a whole bunch from that experience my sophomore year which is going to make me a better person this year.

“I think more people want to see what I’m going to do. Am I going to turn it around? Am I going to stay the same?”

Now comes his reintroduction to college basketball, with a pint-sized running mate hell bent on finding super-sized success.

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“If you’re told you can’t do something long enough,” McDermott said, “you develop a chip on your shoulder.”

If there’s a chip on Maurice Watson’s shoulder, it very well may have been filled by now with heaps of bravado. A 5-foot-10 point guard who went to Boston University out of high school before transferring to Creighton, Watson does not lack for confidence.

“That’s who Maurice is,” McDermott said. “He’s been told all his life he’s not good enough, not tall enough, not quick enough, can’t finish in the Big East.

“And he’s constantly proved people wrong.”

He did it at Boston, ranking third in the country with 7.1 assists per game as a sophomore. He did it as a junior in the Big East, averaging 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per game last year for Creighton.

“Never in my life have I played with someone like Maurice,” Foster said. “He can get to the hole, he can shoot a pull up and he shoots threes now, and he can get his teammates open whenever he wants to.

“One of the best guards in the Big East.”

Watson’s confidence isn’t limited to his own exploits.

“We really want to go to the Final Four,” Watson said. “It’s a goal that’s realistic if you put the work in. You challenge your team to do something and you see everybody responding by being in the gym and having better practices.

“We’re going to shoot for the stars here. This is my last season so I want to go out with a bang. I haven’t made the (NCAA) tournament yet, and I think that’s going to change this year so why not make a run when that happens.”

If that run comes together, it figures to do so largely on the strength of the Watson-Foster backcourt, which is among the highest-regarded in the country.

“I think we can be the best one,” Watson said.

Watson is the floor general, Foster his second in command.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

OMAHA, NE - FEBRUARY 9: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the basket past Edmond Sumner #4 of the Xavier Musketeers during their game at CenturyLink Center on February 9, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. Creighton defeated Xavier 70-56. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

“He knows I’m going to be the leader of the team still,” Watson said, “get everybody shots, and I tell him I’ll make it easier for him as well. He’s kind of still not trying to do too much, still trying to let me run the team.

“He hasn’t done a lot with the ball. He’s been cutting and curling and popping and kind of letting me find him and learning how to play off me, which is good for him because I’ve already played and he has to come in and get his swag back.”

Said Foster, “We’re like best friends. We hang out all the time. When you see him, you’re going to see me. The connection’s already there on the court because we have it off the court.”

Both are capable – and prefer – playing at a breakneck speed, which will undoubtedly put pressure on Big East defenses.

“Maurice is one of the better passers I’ve ever coached,” McDermott said. “He’s able to find Marcus wherever he is on the floor. It’s a very good combination.”

It’s a dangerous combo in the halfcourt, too.

“We complement each other a lot because he can get (into the teeth of the defense),” Foster said, “and I can catch-and-shoot and knock down threes. It’s going to be hard for my defender, he’s either going to help and give up a three or not help and give up a layup from him.

“That’s why we’re going to be so hard to guard.”

Creighton’s strength may be in that backcourt duo, but the reason they’re a preseason top-25 team and a darkhorse to challenge Villanova and Xavier in the Big East is the rest of their depth. While they’re battling some injury issues, Creighton has starters Zierden, Cole Huff and Khyri Thomas back along with Watson and Foster. Top-50 recruit Justin Patton, a 7-footer from Omaha, is ready to contribute after redshirting last year.

“We had a rough year a few years ago,” McDermott said, “and we wanted to try and recover and rebound from that as fast as we possibly could.”

Creighton’s recruiting, as seen by Patton and four-star 2017 commit Mitchell Ballock, has quickly adapted to the Big East. Watson and Foster are the first wave of transfer reinforcements, and Kaleb Joseph, who will sit out this year after coming over from Syracuse, is the next.

Simply, it looks like Creighton is once again a program the nation can’t ignore.

“Creighton is used to winning and that’s just how it is,” Watson said. “They’re used to winning. That’s the tradition. That’s what you want to keep going.”

Even as Creighton’s success has dipped the last two years, they’ve routinely filled the 17,000-seat CenturyLink Center near capacity. The appetite for a winner could very well be met this year.

“(Fans) are so hungry for that,” Foster said. “I feel like they’re even hungrier this year because we have a team that’s going to be considered one of the best teams to ever play here. I think they’re definitely itching.”

Even with all the success Doug McDermott’s teams had and Kyle Korver’s before him and Paul Silas’ before him, the Bluejays have not played in an NCAA tournament Sweet 16.

“That’s our goal,” McDermott said, “not only get in the tournament, but have success in the tournament and go somewhere no Creighton team has ever gone.”

Even if the Bluejays don’t have a transcendent player, that goal seems in play as the season is set to open.

“They’re very talented,” Doug McDermott said, “and very capable of making a run. I think (Greg McDermott) has done a great job and continuing to recruit well. I think the future is really bright.”

Late last week the Bluejays took to their $13-million practice facility, opened months after Doug’s graduation, for practice. On the far side of the gym, is a massive banner featuring Doug’s likeness in a Chicago Bulls uniform, larger than life, suspended above the floor.

The Bluejays went through drills, competed against each other and ran sprints with spirited vigor, an effort to elevate themselves back to that level.

Travis Hines

Maui Invitational’s 2018 field announced

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The 2018 field of the Maui Invitational was announced Wednesday, and it features some of the top programs in the sport.

Arizona, Duke, Iowa State, Gonzaga, Illinois, Auburn, Xavier and San Diego State will make up the eight-team field for the tournament that will be played Nov. 19-21, 2018, at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Our fields always showcase the best in college basketball,” tournament chairman Dave Odom said in a release, “and 2018 will be as strong as we’ve ever had.”

The 2018 edition of the tournament will also be the first that has eight Division I teams as host Chaminade will compete in the open round during even years going forward and in odd years beginning in 2019 in the championship round.

This year’s Maui Invitational features UConn, Georgetown, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin. It tips off Nov. 21, and goes through Nov. 23.

College Basketball’s Best Off-Guards

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 20:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on February 20, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The off-guard spot is the weakest position in college basketball this season. For comparison’s sake, the No. 20 lead guard in the list we released yesterday was Davidson’s Jack Gibbs, who ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list.

For off-guards, only 16 were ranked in our top 100, meaning the final four in this list didn’t crack that list. Why is this the case? Is it because the best scoring guards in basketball are trying to mold themselves after the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Derrick Rose as opposed to, say, Kobe? Is it because the emphasis on court-spacing has turned the off-guard spot into a spot-up shooter’s role? Or is this just a random year where the two-guards just aren’t all that good?

As interesting as that discussion would be, it’s a different conversation for a different day.

Before we dive into the top 20 off-guards in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 20: Tyler Dorsey #5 of the Oregon Ducks shoots a jump shot against the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 20, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Tyler Dorsey (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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1. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen is our pick as the Preseason National Player of the Year, so why wouldn’t he be ranked as the best player in what will likely end up being the weakest position in the sport this season? I’ve mentioned this over and over again, but it’s impressive enough that it deserves repeating: As a sophomore, Allen became the first high major player to ever average 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while notching a 61.6 true shooting percentage.

To get an idea of how dominant those numbers are, think about it like this: Damian Lillard, a No. 6 pick in the NBA Draft and currently a top ten point guard in the NBA, is one of the six players since 1993 to put up those numbers, and Lillard did it while playing at Weber State. Allen did it in the ACC.

2. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk will be one of the most entertaining players in the country this season. He’s a human-hightlight reel athletically that can go off for 30 points on any given night. The key for him is consistency and efficiency. Can he avoid the 2-for-18 games he was prone to in high school? And will playing on a team that is stocked with talent force him to improve on his shot selection? He’s a pretty good shooter when he takes good shots.

3. Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster is going to be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. As a freshman at Kansas State in 2013-14, Foster averaged 15.5 points for an NCAA tournament team. He looked like he was destined to be a star in the Big 12, but then a falling out with the program led to a transfer which led to last year’s redshirt season. Now eligible at Creighton, will he return to the form he his first year in college?

4. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey has all the skills needed to be able to thrive in the Swing Offense that Dana Altman runs. He’s a talented scorer and an above-average shooter that excels with the ball in his hands. Joseph Young averaged 20 points as a senior with the Ducks, and it would not be surprising to see Dorsey put up similar numbers as long as Dillon Brooks is out with his foot injury.

5. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Based on what Mitchell did last season, this may seem like a bit of a stretch. He averaged just 7.4 points. But considering that Louisville graduated their starting backcourt, and factoring in just how good Mitchell was in flashes down the stretch of the season, it’s a decent bet that he will develop into an all-ACC player this year. He’s precisely the kind of guard that thrives in Rick Pitino’s system.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

6. Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Trier is the leading returning scorer for Arizona and spent last season as the one guy on the roster that was able to create a shot for himself. That won’t be the case this year, not with Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons in the mix, but he’ll likely still be the best perimeter weapon on an Arizona team that’s good enough to compete for a Pac-12 title.

7. E.C. Matthews, Rhode Island: The key with Matthews is going to be his health. He’s coming off of a torn ACL that torpedoed the 2015-16 season after just 10 minutes. When he’s healthy, he’s arguably the best player in the Atlantic 10.

8. James Blackmon, Indiana: Another guy coming off of a knee injury, Blackmon was one of the nation’s best freshman shooters, averaging 15.7 points in his first season in Bloomington. Last year, Indiana made their run to a Big Ten title after he hurt his knee and missed the season. Where will he fit in with this year’s Hoosier group?

9. Mikal Bridges, Villanova: Bridges is an intriguing prospect because of his length, his athleticism and his versatility defensively. That’s precisely the kind of role that he can excel in with the Wildcats. The big question is offensively. What kind of improvement will he make this season?

10. Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State: Part of the reason that Malik Newman, a top ten recruit in the Class of 2015, decided to transfer out of Mississippi State was that people realized that Quinndary Weatherspoon was actually the better freshman guard on the roster.

CONTENDER SERIES: Duke | Oregon | Kentucky | Kansas | Villanova

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 19: Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils greets fans after defeating the Yale Bulldogs 71-64 during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Duke’s Luke Kennard (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

11. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard gets overlooked because Duke has so much talent on their roster this season, but if he was on any other team in the ACC we’d be talking about him as a guy that could average 15 points and that has the potential to be an all-league player.

12. Peter Jok, Iowa: Jok averaged 16.1 points on a good Iowa team last season. Playing on a rebuilding Iowa team this year, don’t be surprised to see him lead the Big Ten in scoring.

13. Antonio Blakeney, LSU: Blakeney is one of the better ball-handlers on this list. He had some impressive moments as a freshman, but with Ben Simmons off to the NBA, Blakeney will be asked to carry a heavier load offensively this year. Will he be able to handle it?

14. Elijah Brown, New Mexico:

15. Nick Emery, BYU: Emery’s reputation went national last season when he was caught on camera throwing a punch at Brandon Taylor of in-state rival Utah. Don’t let that mask his ability. It wasn’t a fluke that Emery, the younger brother of former Cougar Jackson Emery, averaged 16.2 points as a freshman.

RANKINGS: Top Frontcourts | Top Backcourts

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 07: Nick Emery #4 of the Brigham Young Cougars brings the ball up the court against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during a semifinal game of the West Coast Conference Basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on March 7, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gonzaga won 88-84. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
BYU’s Nick Emery (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

16. Marcus Evans, Rice: Evans was a monster for the Owls as a freshman, averaging 21.4 points for a team that finished in the middle of the pack of a mediocre Conference USA. But Evans is better than simply being a high-volume scorer in a bad league.

17. Jabari Bird, Cal: Bird’s minutes will open up with Jordan Mathews off to Gonzaga for his senior year. Bird has always had potential for the Bears but he has yet to live up to that potential on the floor.

18. Eron Harris, Michigan State: Someone is going to have to score point for Michigan State this season, and Harris is a fifth-year senior that once averaged 17.8 points for West Virginia. Can he do what Bryn Forbes did last season?

19. Zak Irvin, Michigan: Irvin has had an up-and-down career with the Wolverines, but assuming that he and Derrick Walton both find a way to remain healthy all year long, he should have a big senior season.

20. Kevaughn Allen, Florida: Allen looked awesome at times as a freshman. He also went through stretches were he looked like, well, a freshmen. He’s a big-time athlete and an explosive scorer that should thrive in Mike White’s uptempo system.


  • Charles Cooke, Dayton
  • George King, Colorado
  • Jordan Mathews, Gonzaga
  • Rodney Purvis, UConn
  • Jerome Robinson, Boston College
  • Matt Thomas, Iowa State